Saturday, July 25, 2009

Big chance for tour strugglers

Match Facts
Senior Open Championship 2009,

It might not match Tom Watson trying to win the Open at 59, but this is a big weekend for Ricardo Gonzalez and Lee Slattery.

The former has not been in the top 10 all year and the latter has not managed a top-20 finish since last August.

But they were clear of the field entering the third round of the SAS Masters in Malmo today, Gonzalez 10 under par and Slattery nine under.

They rank 153rd and 136th respectively on the European Tour money list and are both fully aware only the top 115 at the end of the season are spared a trip to the qualifying school.

Gonzalez, 39 and a three-time winner, made six visits before establishing himself on the circuit a decade ago.

Slattery, the 30-year-old from Southport, has already been to the dreaded school seven times and his only success there was two years ago after he had failed to keep his card by less than £60.

First prize tomorrow is just under £143,000 - so modest by Tour standards these days that the event earns the winner only a one-year exemption.

Having had two second-place finishes, however, Slattery would be ecstatic if he can pull it off.

Overnight there was a three-stroke gap between him and third-placed trio Richie Ramsay, Pablo Larrazabal and Martin Erlandsson.

Larrazabal won last year's French Open but Scotland's former US Amateur champion Ramsay and Swede Erlandsson are, like Slattery, chasing their first Tour victories.

Ramsay admits he was embarrassed by an opening 77, one of the worst scores of the day, in the Open last week and was put in touch with Padraig Harrington's American "mind guru" Bob Rotella.

"I really struggled mentally there I felt and he was just saying I've got to be more positive," said the Aberdeen golfer. "I've got all the shots but I need to believe in myself more."

Pre-tournament favourite Henrik Stenson, who is donating all his prize money to his new Foundation charity, resumed 11 behind Gonzalez and would have missed the cut if he had bogeyed rather than birdied his final hole yesterday.

Former US Open champion Michael Campbell cut it even finer, making it through with nothing to spare on two over - a massive relief because it was his first cut since last October.

He did it only after a wait of nearly eight hours and only when England's Phillip Archer and Swede Ake Nilsson both failed to end their rounds with birdies late in the evening.

Campbell has been struggling with a shoulder problem and pulled out of the Open during his second round last week.

After an opening 78, another early exit was on the cards, but he improved eight strokes on that on his return to Barseback - at 7,665 yards the longest course in European Tour history - and then spent the rest of the day wondering if his total would be good enough to survive.

"I've had a mental barrier to get through as well as physical," he said. "A lot of people around me have been very supportive but the bottom line is that it's up to you.

"I'd be a rich man if I was paid something every time somebody has asked me what's happening, but hopefully I've turned the corner now."

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